23 October 2013

Examples of Wild Pigeon Demise in 1880

Newspaper records from 1880 provide several exquisite examples of the reported extent of wild pigeons being killed or trapped from April to July for two basic purposes. This indicative material varies from market reports from New York City, an account by a jolly crew at a Pennsylvania roost, and reports associated with organized sporting tournaments where the birds were shot.

These are some of the readily available details, starting with the pervasive demand for edible game in markets, especially New York:

"About 50 bbls. of Wild Pigeons were received to-day from Pennsylvania, which overstocked the market, and caused a decline in price; they were selling this afternoon at 87 @ 1.00, and were not all cleared out at this figures." — New York Tribune of April 14, 1880 which indicated the wholesale price for the week ending April 13

Pigeons were nesting, in only a very few places, and these sites were where trappers congregated to earn some cash by harvesting a crop of birds.

One immense nesting site was in Pennsylvania, and another report of the season indicates additional particulars:

"Mr. George Hickok returned on Tuesday morning from Pennsylvania. He and two others caught in the neighborhood of Sheffield on the Tionesta, and Kane, Pa., eleven hundred dozen pigeons during the past six weeks. He reports immense flights of birds in that region, which have been nesting since early in March." — Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph of April 23, 1880

An first-hand account came from the Forest Republican newspaper issued at Tionesta, Pa. on April 28th as submitted by "Old Muley" from the scene, scribed in a folksy manner.

"Camp Virtue,"
Between "Salmon" & "Blue Jay,"
April 24th, 1880.
Dear Ed.
Agreeable to promise I send you a few "pencillings by the way." Our party, consisting of "Rant,", Newt," and "cap," started from Tionesta behind the spanking team belonging to friend Clark, towards the pigeons by the way of Nebraska, Big Coon, Red Hot, Black's Corner, where we took dinner, (one man ordered seven plates of bread,) had the horses fed, and started for Marienville, in a pelting rain storm; arrived all right, however, some of us staying at Col. Hunt's, and the rest at Mr. Burton's.
We tried the pigeons for the next two days, with unimportant results. We then "made a break" 6 miles into the timber, putting up at the "Hotel de Old Gent." Oh! ye gods and little fishes! After a few days the land lord "histed" us. I forget to mention that "Dad," Hancock" and "Cap." were the party that broke for the woods. "Rant" and "Newt," going to the Cunningham place. We met another "Hancock" and "Crockett" at this hotel.
When any of this party were inclined to find fault, which, strange to say, some were unreasonable enough to do, our host would answer, "D—— you, better yourselves." One day, however, we built a camp and prepared to occupy it; our host was very wroth, and shook one of the Hancocks, and called Crockett a "cat skinner;" said we were a pack of "Tionesta big bugs," etc. At times our host would treat us to a "cider cocktail," with a "drop" in it, which we would have gladly dispensed with.
We started from Mariensville with ten gallons of cider in the buggy; the roads were rough and the bung would come out about once every mile, especially if hit with a stone; the consequence was that when we got to our destination about two gallons were gone. At night "pigeon poker," — one pigeon ante — would while the tedious hours and pigeons away. Hunting stories, in which "Chat." took a prominent part, and "Dad." kept his end up, helped to amuse us. But let me remark right here that Sheffield "bug-juice" at $1 a quart, takes the rag off the bush. Then, after a few "smiles," — "rye" faces I mean, accompanied with an involuntary shiver, — the stories would be "romantic," some would say that wished to shirk the truth, but to a "man up a tree" they were certainly marvelous.
Yours, "Old Muley." — Forest Republican, April 28th

As the spring weeks progressed, reports changed from trapping perspectives to indications of pigeons being at the wrong end of a gun at contests where shootists took careful aim with every intent to blast a load of shot that would bring to the ground a living bird.

"At the shooting match in St. Louis, on Saturday last, between Fred Erb, of St. Joseph, and Capt. Bogardus, the Champion shot of the world, Bogardus won, killing 86 wild pigeons out of 100 and Erb killing 83 out of 100 which was a close contest." — Richmond Democrat of May 6

New York state Passenger Pigeons were also being taken and shipped eastward to the active New York City market in early May.

"On the Harrisburg express east this morning a part of the freight consisted of 10,000 pounds of wild pigeons, caught in the vicinity of Elmira, N.Y., and intended for the New York city market." — Lancaster Daily Intelligencer in May 1880

It cost less than a dime per bird to purchase a pigeon carcass to cook as a pot pie or any of the other ways that a bird carcass could be prepared for an evening's meal by an urban resident.

The meat of the day came from the local market in many cities.

Michigan birds were railroaded southward for a May sportsman's shoots in Texas.

"Six large coops of wild pigeons from Michigan passed down the Central last night, for the gun clubs at Houston, and four coops passed west for the club at Fort Worth. This is evidence that we will have birds for the State Sportsman's tournament which beings here the 17th of this month and continues five days. — Dallas Daily Herald, May 8th

Another "big tournament" with wild pigeons were the focus of shootists was in Ohio.

"A grand shooting tournament will be held on June 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th at Sidney, Ohio, under the auspices of the Valley City Shooting Association. The management announces that $4,200 in cash prizes will be offered for competition, and that not time will be thrown away shooting glass balls, as they have secured 4,000 wild pigeons." — Sacramento Daily Record-Union

Huge numbers of pigeons in Pennsylvania were harvested like a crop, with the extent conveyed in a few words on the page of a newspaper. Any impact on the nesting birds was tersely indicated, if at all considered. The actual extent of damage to these wild birds is not known.

As to commerce:

"Sheffield, Warren county, has shipped to market this season, 2,000 barrels of dead wild pigeons; 1200 barrels were sent from Kane." — Juniata Sentinel and Republican in June

There is no information available which conveys how many carcasses were stuffed within a barrel, though it had to be significant.

The final two reports for the four months considered for this one year are associated with shooting tournaments in Michigan and New York state.

In the "Town Talk" column of a Cheboygan newspaper, it reported:

"The Valley Queen brought down fifteen dozen pigeons for the Cheboygan gun club for their pigeon shoot on Saturday the 3rd of July." — Northern Tribune on June 26th

Pigeons had been reported as gathering near Traverse City, Michigan so takers arrived to harvest the birds as a crops, which was then packaged and transported to a market for personal profit.

Manly feats at the shootists contests were considered to be so significant that results of a New York state event was reported on the pages of a Nebraska city newspaper. A name of a one apparently "renowned" shootist appears once again.

"Capt. Bogardus and George Rimel, of London, shot a match on the 2nd instant., at Brighton Beach, N.Y., 100 birds each, $500 aside, Bogardus 30 yards, Rimel 28. The former killed 99 birds, wild pigeons, within range, the other falling dead just outside the line. This is the best shooting on record. Rimel also did will, missing only 12 birds." — Nebraska Advertiser issue of July 15, 1880

These succinct details indicate in a lesser extent the broader impacts on the Passenger Pigeons at a period when they were nearly continually "under the gun" in one way or another.